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NATO demonstrates its helplessness in restoring security order in Europe

On July 11-12, 2023, the Lithuanian capital Vilnius hosted the annual NATO Summit. Last year's summit in Madrid marked the moment of transformation of the North Atlantic Alliance. According to the new strategic concept, the Alliance has gone global and, for the first time since the Cold War, has identified Russia as its main threat. At the same time, Ukraine remained outside NATO's Euro-Atlantic responsibility, receiving the role of a "buffer" or "outpost" to deter the Russian threat.

This year, the main expectation in Kyiv was an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance and the provision of concrete security guarantees for Ukraine on its way to accession. The Ukrainian side would probably be satisfied with a formulation that Ukraine would join when the appropriate security conditions are in place, as the Swedish example has shown that it can take some time to reach consensus on accepting a new member. Such a decision would provide Ukraine with certainty about its future in the Euro-Atlantic security system and send a signal to Putin that further aggression against Ukraine is futile.

However, the summit's decision did not satisfy Ukraine's aspirations, as this year's wording practically repeats the promise of the 2008 Bucharest Summit, when Ukraine and Georgia were actually denied accession to the Alliance. In particular, paragraph 11 states that Ukraine's future is in NATO and that Ukraine will become a NATO member in the future.[1] However, no timeline for this accession is specified. The member states promise “to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met'”

In total, Ukraine and Russian aggression against Ukraine are mentioned 17 times in the document, which is a progress compared to the documents adopted in the past. However, the security environment on the continent has changed dramatically. And because of Russia's full-scale invasion, Ukraine needs more than just attention and recognition of its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. In the Vilnius communiqué, member states note that Ukraine's security is of great importance to the Alliance, and they recognize Ukraine's right to self-defense and the measures taken by states to support Ukraine. It also notes the establishment of a political mechanism, the NATO-Ukraine Council, and states that Ukraine's accession will not require a Membership Action Plan.

Obviously, the invitation to join the Alliance is a purely political decision. When Finland was invited to join, standardization was not on the agenda. However, it is now clear that the country's final integration into the Alliance will take years. Turkey, Spain and Portugal did not meet the Alliance's criteria in the past, but this did not prevent the bloc from expanding.

NATO is constantly demanding new and new requirements from Ukraine. At the same time, these requirements are not clear and can be adapted depending on external conditions. In this way, the Alliance can keep Ukraine out for years.

This approach demonstrates the Alliance's attempts to avoid fulfilling the defense tasks for which the bloc was created. In recent decades, NATO has transformed from a defense to a security organization. Now, the Alliance's responsibilities include the fight against terrorism, climate change, as well as the fight against organized crime or piracy. In the 21st century, after several waves of enlargement, the North Atlantic Alliance did not deploy a military contingent on its eastern flank. This expansion was purely political. 

After the security paradigm shift, the bloc failed to adapt quickly. Currently, NATO is trying hard to avoid a clash with Russia and is unable to change the behavior of the aggressor state. A striking example is Russia's disruption of the grain deal, which affects global stability. A bloc of countries with a population of 1 billion people is currently demonstrating helplessness in restoring security order. 

After the full-scale invasion began, NATO countries realized that they do not have enough resources to fight a large-scale war of attrition. Had Russia conquered Ukraine, the entire Russian army would have threatened Eastern European member states. There were prerequisites for this, as the West 2017 and West 2021 exercises were aimed at practicing an attack on the Baltic states and Poland. In December 2021, Putin issued an ultimatum to the North Atlantic Alliance. Since Ukrainians stopped Putin, NATO countries have remained relatively safe. However, if the security order on the continent is not restored and the security architecture is not strengthened, similar wars with Russia remain possible. In addition to hybrid aggression through Belarus and against Moldova, Russia's war against Ukraine may drag on. All countries on the continent will lose from this. However, so far, NATO states continue to support Ukraine at a level that ensures that it does not lose the war with Russia and is not ready to go beyond this approach. 

Ukraine has proven that its army is one of the most capable in Europe and the world. State institutions continued to work reliably during the war and demonstrated the resilience of Ukrainian statehood. Support for joining NATO among the Ukrainian population is at an all-time high. The current moment is an opportunity not only for Ukraine but also for the North Atlantic Alliance.

At the moment, however, not all member states agree with this thesis. Ukraine has signed declarations of support for its accession to NATO with 23 member states. Even France has changed its previous position to a pro-Ukrainian one. The main factor, however, is the position of the United States, whose current administration does not seem to really see Ukraine in NATO. In the future, this may change if the White House perceives Ukraine's accession not as a factor that increases security risks, but as a step toward strengthening security in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic area.

1. Vilnius Summit Communiqué, 11.07.2023,